BioMass: Waste Not – Want Not
Ontario is well ontrack to be one of the first industrialized jurisdictions in the world to eliminate coal-fired electrical generation. The original plan was for Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to transition to a lower carbon future by phasing out the use of coal at its four remaining coal-fuelled stations by the end of 2014, but things are proceeding ahead of schedule already! This possibility is due to wide a variety of contributing factors, with one of the most compelling ones being a clear option to convert these plants to burning BioWaste – if indeed the cost of natural gas proves to be too volatile or costly by comparison.
Of course, there’s a whole range of other considerations to factor into this decision, and alot of due-diligence still to be performed. But the considerable economic and ecological benefits to converting bio mass and waste into usable fuel has everyone at OPG considering the very real possibilities of a BioWaste fueled future.
Good Signs on the Road
There are plenty of good and growing indications appearing around the practical re-purposing of biomass as fuel for thermal generating stations. Several new studies and reports are showing how smart processes and some entirely feasible innovations will certianly allow the OPG to meet the challenges that have been discovered. Providing answers that will certainly define the future of power generation in Ontario for decades to come.
According to the Ontario Power Worker’s Union:
” Carbon neutral, “Grown-in-Ontario” agricultural and forestry-sourced biomass provides reliable, renewable electricity on demand while reducing GHG emissions, creating new jobs and diversifying Ontario’s fuel supply.”
So if the possibility of a new carbon-neutral source of electricity exixts right now, what are the challenges behind possibility of this home-grown green solution meeting our energy needs in the immediate future?
First the good news…
The recent recession, (erm…economic downturn) has resulted in lower industrial demand for power. Milder weather and temperatures have also lowered demand slightly as well. So combining these short-term factors with the marginal conservation efforts brought on by the higher electricity costs of the Liberal ‘Green Energy Plan’, we see how the OPG has been able to justify mothballing some of it’s most polluting coal-fired plants ahead of schedule. The question remains though, as to where the baseload energy is supposed to come from as demand innevitably rises again?
OPG is already looking at this eventuality of course, and hopes to repower these stations in the near future. This will allow continued use of existing facilities owned by the people of Ontario, will cost less than building new stations and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions considerably over coal-fired methods.
Most importantly, the repowering of thermal stations provides effective back up for growing intermittent renewable electricity sources like wind and solar and maintains employment while maintaining economic benefits in the surrounding communities of power stations.
Of course everyone is getting pretty excited about the possibility that a potentially huge demand for BioWaste (driven by OPG) would create the economic and business conditions required to get BioFuels burning in a big way here in Ontario. This is because there has to be a strong business case already in place, to set up the methods and mechanisms required to collect, ship, process, grade and distribute what is currently just considered to be pure waste from forestry and agricultural industries. The benefits of creating a whole new Bio-Waste based industry are compelling, not just because of economic and job growth, but also because of the ecological benefits of such an industry.
Succinctly, Bio-Mass currently treated as Bio-Waste can be converted to Bio-Fuel without releasing any significant amounts of new CO2 into the atmosphere.
The carbon life-cycle of Bio-Waste fuel is neutral since the renewable crops re-absorb CO2 during growth. The results of combustion could also be fixxed as BioChar which offers even more carbon capture and agricultural benefits.
What are challenging steps to surmount for BioWaste-fueled energy?
- Finding sources of BioMass and BioWaste that don’t displace food crops and raise food prices
- Developing the collection processes that will incent producers to supply feedstock to to a BioWaste system
- Developing cost effective methods of processing BioMass into fuel pellets, or to generate fuel gases via fermentation
- Developing methods of re-purposing the results of BioMass combustion that can fix (stabilize) carbon as charcoal and be used for agricultural purposes as BioChar
Creating Green Jobs in Ontario
to Discover the greater benefits of a
1> “What is Biomass?” American Bioenergy Association
2> “Biomass FAQs.” Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Department of Energy
4> Kirby, Alex.”UK Boost for Biomass Crops.” BBC News Science and Nature
5> Life Cycle Assesment of Pelletized Fuel in NanticokeGS and AtiokanGS